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Monday, 17 May 2010

Four Tips To Avoid Bad Writing

This weekend I read (and, miraculously, finished) a very bad book. I won't annoy the author by revealing the title but suffice to say it's not someone I'm going to be hurrying back to.

I persevered because I was determined to get to the end. It's easy to think that I wasted several hours of my life but I learned a few things along the way - how not to write, if you will.

1. Don't overuse the adjectives. The number of unnecessary words in this book, obviously just there to fill space, was perplexing. As amateur writers we're told (not advised, told) to cut these out as if they were infectious diseases. It puzzles me how so many survived into the final draft of this manuscript.

2. Don't swear for the fun of it. If I did a Ctrl+F on this manuscript I dread to think how many times the word 'bitch' would show up. I'm not an innocent babe by any stretch of the imagination but the simple fact is that a word loses significance after repetition. If that's the effect the author was going for then fair play to them but I'm not sure it was.

3. Don't have a twist visible from the off. Now this one could be my own foresight or, again, it could've been a deliberate ploy on the part of the author. Perhaps if we saw it coming and then were wrong-footed only to be right in the first place we wouldn't feel cheated? I don't know, but I wasn't keen on spotting from the very first chapter what the twist was three chapters from the end. Keep your reader guessing is my view. Yes, keep the story rooted in whatever reality you've created but don't bore them with inevitabilities.

4. Don't make your reader invest in a relationship that's going nowhere. Again, this one could've been my own fault. The book was part of a series which had established a strong relationship between two people. However, this particular novel introduced a third dimension, a woman a lot more interesting and absorbing than the dutiful wife. Long-term readers might've been happy to see the affair fail but the fact that so much energy was given over to it (while only an epilogue explained the reconciliation of the main couple) felt very out of place. I would suggest that if a relationship must fail please demonstrate it in more than the epilogue.

Good points about this book? The setting was particularly evocative, some of the minor characters are cleverly sketched with just enough detail, and the climax involves both emotion and action. Those points make it bearable.

However, I do get the feeling that I learned more about how not to write a novel from this author. That does irritate me but I guess we've all read a book like that at some point in the last two years!

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